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Swedish institutional investors slam companies' progress on sustainability

SWEDEN - A third of Sweden’s big companies are being far too slow in making their businesses sustainable, though a few firms have been rigorous, a group of the country’s institutional investors has found.

The results come from the 2011 report from Sustainable Value Creation - a project started by 14 institutional investors in Sweden including five AP funds.

Some 14% of companies largely have sustainability guidelines in place, transparent communication and a board of directors that takes considerable responsibility for sustainability issues, the project said.

But at the other end of the scale, 32% of companies have only established a few guidelines, have a low level of transparency and boards that take limited responsibility, it said.

Nadine Viel Lamare, spokeswoman for Sustainable Value Creation, said: “The fact more companies are making real headway and that these issues are being prioritised is good, but the slow pace of change among those companies that are at the bottom is of concern to us.”

The report included responses from the heads of 82 of the 100 largest companies by value on the NASDAQ OMX Stockholm Exchange.

Transparency has increased among the Swedish companies, the project found, with just over 60% of companies responding now publishing their sustainability guidelines, up from just over 50% in 2009 when the last report was published.

Management systems are increasingly used to monitor guidelines, with the proportion of companies doing it this way increasing to 90% from 67%.

Suppliers are also being checked more - 80% against 60% the last time the survey was done.

Viel Lamare said it was encouraging that a quarter of companies were training new and existing board members in sustainability issues. This showed the matters were being increasingly prioritised.

“We know that a lot of companies struggle with these issues and that it presents a challenge, but it’s pleasing to see things moving in the right direction,” she said. 

The Sustainability Value Creation project aims to “highlight the importance of a structured approach to sustainability issues”, which it says is a prerequisite for long-term value creation in companies, as well as long-term financial returns for investors and shareholders.

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